The goal of any executive who runs a sports studio show is to create compelling (and hopefully authentic) conversation, and that is what GameDay coordinating producer Lee Fitting is charged with every Saturday morning. He will not be afforded uninterrupted two-hour blocs, given that ESPN isn’t PBS, but as the coordinating producer of the network’s most successful studio production, Fitting has a lot of freedom and power on the direction of his show. He has a massively successful product — GameDay expanded to three hours last year (9:00 a.m.-noon ET on Saturdays) and averaged 1,830,000 viewers, a 10 percent increase over the same period on ESPN in 2012 — but plans to make some changes he believes will improve the editorial flow. The show opens its new season at Sundance Square Fort Worth on August 30 in advance of the Cowboys Classic between Florida State and Oklahoma State. The game will air that night on ABC at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Below, I examined some of the changes.
• GameDay will have limited commercials in its opening hour this year as viewers will get long stretches of conversation, with an aim toward hardcore football fans. “I think we need to have stronger opinions and more opinions, but do so organically,” Fowler said. “I think one of the reasons GameDay has had its long-term success is we don’t force things in merely for theater.
• Fitting says the show is looking to add a full-time DJ to keep the crowds (mostly of college students) entertained. The DJ will occasionally appear on air, and the hope is to hire a woman in the role. “One of the challenges we have run into with the show going three hours is we are asking the kids to be out there for 3-5 hours and they lose energy,” Fitting said. “So we thought: Why don’t we bring a DJ out that plays music off air during breaks? You keep the crowd energized and it becomes more of a party.” This person would then slowly become on-air talent for GameDay. Fitting said that since the show is “overloaded with middle-age males,” his preference was to get a female DJ.
• Fowler’s schedule is obviously a major story, since he has replaced Brent Musburger on the ABC Saturday Night Game. He said he is doing specific game prep earlier than he has done before and already knows what ABC’s second Saturday Night Football game will be — it has not been announced yet. The travel schedule he and Herbstreit will likely employ will involve arriving on Thursdays at one of the schools playing in the Saturday Night game, and then flying Friday to theGameDay site if the site is different from their game. “It’s not about Saturdays — Saturdays are just about having the stamina to do it,” Fowler said. “It’s how you make it work from Sunday to Thursday before you go on site.”
Added Fitting: “We are not blowing up how we operate during the week. I told my bosses that I could see our guys for the first time all week at 8 a.m. Saturday and we will be good. Chris will not let this fail in terms of doing both. The way in which he hosts GameDay will not be affected. He will restructure the way he organizes his week to make this work.”
• As for how long Fowler will do the GameDay-Saturday night double, ESPN executive vice president John Wildhack told SI.com in April that “ours and Chris’s focus is on the upcoming season. We always evaluate each and every season in detailed scrutiny.” Fowler agreed on that timeframe.
“There is no way I perceive it being a long-term thing,” Fowler said. “I view everything either year by year or even week by week. I’m pretty good at staying micro. Management’s job is to look longer term. An announcer’s job is to look at the next assignment and do it well. I want to see if I am enjoying GameDay and if it is not too busy.
• The dream celebrity pickers once again include President Barack Obama and golfer Tiger Woods. ESPN has been in contact with the White House — Fitting said Obama is interested – but there is no set date and it would obviously only work if the President’s schedule deemed it so. Fitting said he also spoke with Woods’ caddy, Joe LaCava, a month ago and Woods is interested in doing it. Again, the schedule has to work.
• As for a new dream celebrity picker: Fitting said Playboy founder Hugh Hefner is high on the list. “We have always wanted Hugh Hefner,” he said. “I don’t know or care if he has a connection to a school. He’d be fun.”
• Fitting said Fowler and Herbstreit’s game assignment will not dictate whereGameDay goes. Last year, GameDay went to eight ABC/ESPN games and seven non-ESPN/ABC games. “I can promise you we will not be going to sites just because Fowler and Herbstreit will be there,” Fitting said. “Our bosses have been great. They have always said, “Go where you need to go.”
• Corso, who turns 79 in August, is not going anywhere anytime soon. “This is a topic that I lose zero sleep over and spend little time thinking about,” Fitting said of Corso’s eventual replacement. “I don’t see him shutting it down anytime soon. He is in great health. At times his speech is slurred as he knows, we know and the viewer knows. To me, for what he brings to the show, the sport and the chemistry of the show, I can handle a handful of slurred words for everything else he brings.”
• ESPN said the first week of GameDay will be the 240th headgear selection for Corso. His first-week record picking games is 9-6 all-time.
• Fitting said GameDay will talk more gambling this year in an organic way. “We will weave in naturally more gambling references and tips and information,” Fitting said. “But it won’t scream gambling. I think gamblers will pick up on it, but non-gamblers will not be turned away. I like gambling information when it appeals to the non-gamblers.
• SEC Network contributor Paul Finebaum will be on GameDay again even with his new job. Fitting said Finebaum will appear either via satellite in the first hour of the show or as part of a segment when he is not appearing on the SEC Network’s SEC Nation pregame show. Viewers should also expect SEC Network staffers Tebow and Marcus Spears to show up on GameDay occasionally. The reverse will also occur, as Pollack will appear on SEC Nation. The cross-promotion will exist, Fitting said, when the editorial dictates it.
• Fitting said GameDay staffers loved going to Fargo, N.D., last year and he would consider going again.
• Fowler is more than just the host of the show: Think of him as GameDay’s co-CEO with Fitting. Fowler said the toughest part of his dual role this year will be juggling the early part of the college football season when it intersects with the U.S. Open tennis tournament. “I don’t want to give up the U.S. Open; it’s important to me,” Fowler said.
• The national semifinal games will have dueling studio sets in Pasadena, Calif., and New Orleans, and the studio hosting will be split up between Rece Davis, John Saunders, Joe Tessitore, Scott Van Pelt, Chris Cotter, Sam Ponder and perhaps even Fowler. “How they are involved we have not figured that out yet,” Fitting said.
For the rest of the article visit Sports Illustrated where it was originally published
Tony Bruno Relives Favorite Moments With Angelo Cataldi on 94 WIP
“I loved every day. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that.”
Tony Bruno has been a staple of the sports radio business for decades. Bruno is from Philadelphia and was teamed up in the early nineties with a duo still dominating the local airwaves there today, Angelo Cataldi and Al Morganti. The three reunited Thursday morning on 94 WIP to remember the glory days of their partnership and friendship.
One of the first moments Cataldi asked Bruno if he remembered was the update he did from a tree outside of their studio and the answer was an emphatic yes.
“Absolutely, it’s one of the highlights of my life – other than interviewing four Presidents and every sports athlete in history – there’s no bigger moment than me climbing up in the tree, which was obstructing our view of William Penn and the city skyline. That’s what I do, I was a man of action. I’m not one of these guys that talks the talk, I climb the tree to do whatever is necessary.”
More frivolity followed when Cataldi harkened back to a segment of ‘Damsels in Distress’ and a time in which Bruno was sent on the street during a snowstorm to help shovel people out of their driveways. Bruno quickly recalled, “Man of the people. I should run for – I should of run for Governor of Pennsylvania or Senate or something.”
Bruno added that his favorite rant (and one that Cataldi loved too) wasn’t about the Cowboys or sports at all. “My favorite was my Infinity Broadcasting rant where I went on one day and even ripped our bosses, all the way up to the top of Infinity Broadcasting.” Cataldi cackled and praised Bruno’s rants more before being interrupted by Bruno saying, “yeah, my only regret is I never really ripped Al (Morganti) the way I should have ripped him. I let him of the hook so many times.”
An insightful moment came at the end of the call when Cataldi asked rhetorically if Bruno ever thought they (Cataldi & Morganti) would still be doing this thirty years later and then asked if Tony ever regretted leaving.
“It was a tough decision, Ang,” Bruno answered. “I was given an ultimatum. When I came to work with you guys, I loved every day. Every day we had fun. We did stuff that put Sports Radio in Philly on the map and I’m proud of that. It wasn’t one of those, ‘oh I got to go; I’m too big for these guys’. I even turned the ESPN job down a couple of times.
“My kids were still younger then, I didn’t want to move. I didn’t have to move. They said just come up here on weekends and that’s how ESPN Radio started. So I was doing weekends and Tom Bigby (Program Director) didn’t like that either, told me it wasn’t going to work. It was a philosophical thing. When he told me, ‘you should go because we are not going to pay you what they’re paying you,’ I said ok.
Cataldi began to sign off with Bruno with genuine thanks: “I got to tell you something Tone, we are indebted to you for the rest of our lives because we both learned so much from you and you are one of the great talents that radio has ever had.”
Dodgers Temporarily Pull Broadcasters Off Road
“If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road.”
When the Los Angeles Dodgers visit the East Coast later this week, the men that call the action on TV and radio will not be with them. The games will instead be broadcast on AM570 LA Sports and SportsNet LA from their respective studios.
“Due to a few members of the Dodgers’ broadcast team having recently tested positive for COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, the Dodgers have decided to not travel their broadcasters to upcoming games in Philadelphia and Washington,” the Dodgers announced in a statement. Similar to the 2020 and 2021 MLB seasons, the games will be broadcast from Los Angeles,” reads a statement on the team’s Twitter account.
No further details are available, so the severity and the number of cases remain unknown.
Last September, both members of the Dodgers’ television play-by-play crew were forced into quarantine. Joe Davis was the first to test positive, followed later that month by Orel Hershiser.
On Wednesday, manager Dave Roberts told the media that the Dodgers’ roster and coaching staff are not effected.
“There’s there’s no symptoms in the clubhouse. I think that as far as the upstairs, as an organization, we’re all just trying to be very cautious. But as far as in the clubhouse, coaches, training staff, nothing like that.”
If the broadcasters’ are not dealing with severe cases of Covid and they have cleared health and safety protocols, it appears the team is open to sending them back out on the road. 2022 was supposed to be a return to normal for the Dodgers and many other teams after not letting broadcasters travel in 2020 and 2021.
Pat McAfee: ‘No One Will Disrespect Jim Rome On My Show’
“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle.”
Jim Rome is a sports radio icon and Pat McAfee recognizes that.
On The Pat McAfee Show on Wednesday, McAfee was talking to co-host A.J. Hawk about how Rome trended recently on Twitter.
This happened after news of Tom Brady’s FOX Sports deal surfaced, and a list of the top paid sports media personalities was compiled. Rome came in behind Brady at number two making a reported $30 million a year, and many were surprised by that number. McAfee wasn’t.
“That’s because you need to respect the f–king jungle,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for Jim Rome.”
McAfee gave props to Rome, 57, saying he’s been doing sports talk probably longer than anyone. He’s one of the most widely distributed hosts in the country. Pat said he won’t tolerate anyone talking smack about the Smack-Off King.
“No disrespect will be said on this show of Jim Rome, ever,” he said. “Love that man.”